Education is fundamental to personal, social, cultural and economic development in all societies but even more so in South Africa given our country’s history. It is for this reason that, under President Zuma, education was declared the apex priority of Government.
In this year – as we celebrate twenty years of our freedom and democracy - it is essential that we reflect on the Department of Basic Education’s efforts to meet the country’s expectations. Such reflection requires that we put education districts at the centre.
Education districts play a central role in ensuring that all learners and adults have access to education of progressively high quality. Districts are the link between Provincial Education Departments, their education institutions and the public in general. They are often the major and sometimes the only source of external assistance and support received by schools. Districts are, therefore, a key vehicle for initiating, testing, driving and sustaining systemic reforms. Schools often lack the capacity to redesign themselves and school functionality therefore relies, to a very large extent, on the corresponding functionality of education districts.
The National Development Plan (NDP): Vision 2030, states that districts have a responsibility to “provide targeted support to improve practices within schools, and ensure communication and information sharing between authorities and schools. Schools need to share best practice.”
To enable Districts to fulfil this function, the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs AM Motshekga, MP, in April 2013 published the Policy on the Organisation, Roles and Responsibilities of Education Districts, in terms of section 3(4) of the National Education Policy Act (NEPA), 1996 (Act No 27 of 1996). The policy provides for a common approach, approved by the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) to the demarcation, organisation, staffing, delegation of authority and resourcing of districts across all provincial education departments.
In addition to the Policy, the Department of Basic Education also established a Forum of District Directors, where the 81 Education District Directors from across the country meet quarterly with the DBE Senior Management Team, led by the Minister of Basic Education, to reflect on their role in the process of ensuring that education meets the aspirations of the people of South Africa. The Forum presents a space where District Directors meet to discuss key national policies and initiatives, share best practices, discuss common challenges together, and agree to the way forward as a collective.
This Forum is not a mere talk shop, but an action-oriented community of frontline providers committed to the betterment of education in their districts, and in the country as a whole, building on their strengths, learning from each other, working around constraints, and leveraging the momentum to keep the process moving forward. Together this group of managers has helped the country on a journey to write positive stories about the education of our children.
In this year, we recognise and celebrate the “good story” told by districts that continue to improve their NSC results which are – for most South Africans – the barometer of how well Government is doing with respect to the education of their children. The results indeed tell a very good story in a variety of respects:
§ Seventy-one (71) of the eighty-one (81) districts improved their performance, with Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape registering the highest improvement at 11.9 per cent, followed by Dr Ruth Mompati at 11.2 per cent, Waterberg at 10.5 per cent and Bohlabela at 10.3 per cent.
§ Only seven districts remain in the category of districts performing below 60 percent. This is however down from 10 districts in 2012.
§ Districts performing below 65 per cent decreased from eighteen (18) in 2012 to only ten (10) in 2013.
§ In 2013, three districts improved their results by no less than 7 per cent to get through the 65 per cent ceiling.
§ Districts performing below 50 per cent decreased from five (5) in 2011 to three (3) in 2012, and zero (0) in 2013.
§ Thirty-seven (37) of the eighty-one (81) districts performed at 80 per cent and above in the 2013 NSC. The leaders of the pack were Sedibeng East at 90.7 per cent, Ngaka Modiri Molema at 90.5 per cent, Gauteng West at 90.1 per cent, Overberg at 90 per cent, and Johannesburg West at 89.6 per cent.
§ Seventy-four of the eighty-one districts (81) performed at 60 per cent and above and sixty-one at 70 per cent and above.
§ Only ten (10) of the eighty-one (81) districts registered a decrease in results ranging between 0.1 and 5.3 per cent.
As a consequence of the Forum of Districts, a separate process was established to support all districts whose average learner performance in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) results continued to be below 65 per cent. This group of districts worked together more regularly and significantly improved their performance at the end of 2013.
Of the eighteen (18) districts that performed below 65 per cent in the 2012 NSC examinations, seventeen (17) improved their performance – with only one (1) district, Lusikisiki – showing a minor decrease of 0.3 per cent.
We celebrate the achievements of Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape, Waterberg in Limpopo, Bohlabela in Mpumalanga, and John Taolo Gaetsewe in the Northern Cape for topping this group with improvements of 11.9 per cent, 10.5 per cent, 10.3 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively in 2013.
Districts have also taken up the challenge of using the results of the Annual National Assessments to guide and mentor schools and teachers in how to interpret and make use of the ANA results to improve the critical skills of literacy and numeracy. Assessment in the primary phase is an invaluable tool not only in measuring learner achievements, but also in providing relevant diagnostic information which serves as feedback to teaching, learning and assessment processes. The ANA has become a highlight of the education calendar and an enormous administrative task involving over 7 million children in over 24 000 schools in which districts play a crucial role.
From the story told by the performance of our districts, we have seen, overall, a greater sense of focus across all districts. There are, however, still areas that need to be addressed. We have learned that success and challenge are mutual constructs, and not simply bipolar constructs. Success in itself presents challenges, and does not mean that the struggle is over, but that we are on the right track with what we are doing. We have come to accept that as more and more cycles of success emerge, new cycles of challenge emerge, and these we continue to address. Through this process we are working systematically to strengthen the quality of learning and teaching in our schools.
The Department of Basic Education believes all South Africans should be encouraged by the good stories being written in our education districts, and accept that the education and future of their children is in good, hardworking and caring hands. Education Districts are now more than ever before directed and responsive to the challenges on the ground. They know however that the successes being recorded are also a result of the increased participation of communities across the country: parents, traditional leaders, religious leaders, teachers and learners working together.
The Department of Basic Education looks forward to even more support for our schools and districts to continue on this journey of improvement – in order that going forward we will write even better education stories for South Africa.